Abbas says Israel ‘must stop’ Gaza ground assault

Abbas says Israel ‘must stop’ Gaza ground assault

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas called on Israel to stop its ground operation in the Gaza Strip, saying it would cause more bloodshed and complicate efforts to end the conflict, Egypt's official MENA news agency reported Friday.

Abbas' remarks came hours after Israel launched a ground operation aimed at hitting the Palestinian militant Hamas group, and as the death toll in Gaza hit 248 early on Friday, AFP reported.

"Isarel must stop its ground operation in the Gaza Strip," MENA quoted Abbas as saying as he addressed a group of Egyptian intellectuals and journalists in Cairo.

"This operation would only lead to more bloodshed and complicate the situation and efforts to stop the [Israeli] aggression."

On Thursday, Abbas met Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi amid intense diplomatic efforts to end the conflict between Israel and Palestinian militant group, Hamas, which entered its 11th day on Friday.

Egypt's foreign ministry too denounced Israel's ground operation and demanded that both sides accept a Cairo proposed truce "immediately and unconditionally."

Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri, however, lashed out at Hamas, saying it could have saved dozens of lives had it accepted Cairo's ceasefire proposal presented earlier this week.

Hamas, the Islamist rulers of Gaza, had rejected the ceasefire intended to start on Tuesday and continued firing rockets at Israeli cities.

Hamas has laid out a set of conditions, among them the lifting of Israel's eight-year blockade on the Gaza Strip, the opening of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt and the release of Palestinian prisoners Israel has rearrested after freeing them in exchange for kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in 2011.

Abbas met in Cairo on Wednesday with Hamas deputy leader Mussa Abu Marzuq, who insisted on changes to the Egyptian truce plan including guarantees on opening border crossings to Gaza.

The initiative called for a return to an Egyptian-brokered 2012 ceasefire that ended eight days of fighting, and loosened border restrictions on goods for the blockaded coastal enclave.

Israel initially accepted the Egyptian initiative but later intensified its air strikes after Hamas rejected the plan, saying it had not been consulted.

Egypt's presidency, meanwhile, said that during their meeting Abbas and Sisi mulled holding a donors conference to rebuild war-wracked Gaza.

Sisi and Abbas also agreed that Israeli crossings to the besieged Gaza be opened to facilitate movement of people and goods, the presidency said.

It was not clear whether they were also referring to Egypt's Rafah border crossing with Gaza, the only passage that bypasses Israel.

Abbas travels to Turkey on Friday from where he was to head to Bahrain and Qatar as part of his diplomatic efforts to end the conflict, MENA reported.

He said there was no meeting scheduled with Hamas leader Khaled Meshal in Qatar.

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